Rutherford: ‘Canes committed to improving defense

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Jim Rutherford has said it before, and he’s saying it again — Carolina is looking to get better on the blueline heading into free agency.

“Our focus will continue to be on improving our defense,” the ‘Canes GM told the Raleigh News and Observer. “We were working (Wednesday) and will continue to work, looking at different options – what our projections are and what the possibilities are.

“The options range from free agency to a trade to continuing on the path we’re on now.”

In April, Rutherford suggested the issues his club had in 2013 — 3.31 goals against per game, 29th in the NHL — were due in large part to a lacklustre blueline.

He also felt it contributed to the team’s downfall.

On Mar. 12, the ‘Canes beat the Caps to move to 15-9-1 on the year and first place in the Southeast Division.

By Apr. 28 — the final day of the regular season — Carolina was 19-25-4, and finished 13th in the East.

Rutherford said his defense didn’t take the body enough, and needed to improve its mobility and puck moving.

“Whether it be a physical defenseman, a puck-moving defenseman, two puck-moving defensemen, whatever it is, those are things the management team and the coaching staff will discuss at the end of the year,” he said. “That’s an area it’s clear we need to make stronger.”

The ‘Canes are locked into five defensemen next year — Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Andrej Sekera, Justin Faulk, Jay Harrison — with a sixth, Brett Bellemore, having recently signed a one-year, two-way deal.

It’s also expected Ryan Murphy, the 12th overall pick at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft, will have a legit shot of making the roster.

As for who’s available in free agency?

Douglas Murray and Ryan O’Byrne both finished in the NHL’s top-3o for hits last season, and could provide a physical element.

Marek Zidlicky, Ryan Whitney or Ian White — who played for a spell in Carolina — could be decent acquisitions to help the puck-moving/offensive game.

Or, Rutherford could try and complete his collection of Staals by trying to get Marc out of New York.

Rask will start, Krejci a game-time decision for Bruins

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Tuukka Rask will be back in Boston’s net tonight when the Bruins host the Nashville Predators.

Rask missed Saturday’s game in Brooklyn with a lower-body injury. And though Anton Khudobin backstopped the B’s to a 2-1 victory over the Isles, coach Bruce Cassidy said yesterday that Rask was the “No. 1 goalie” and would play as soon as he was healthy.

“Tuukka is healthy,” Cassidy confirmed today, per CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty. “That’s what he indicated to me and that’s all I needed to hear. He’ll be our starter tonight.”

Rask has struggled since mid-January, registering an .886 save percentage in his last 25 appearances. Thursday against Tampa Bay, he allowed five goals on 28 shots in one of his worst performances of the season.

Read more: Cassidy says Bruins “overused” Rask early on

Another pressing issue for the B’s? The health of center David Krejci, who left practice early yesterday with an upper-body injury.

Krejci will be a game-time decision tonight. If he can’t play, Ryan Spooner will center Drew Stafford and David Pastrnak.

The Bruins are just one point ahead of the surging Lightning for the second wild-card spot in the East. Both teams have seven games remaining. The B’s hold the ROW tiebreaker, 37 to 33.

Isles sign Gaudreau’s kid brother, beat deadline for Bischoff

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Busy day for Isles GM Garth Snow.

First, in an interesting move, the Isles have signed Boston College’s Matt Gaudreau — the younger brother of Calgary star Johnny Gaudreauto an ATO with its AHL affiliate in Bridgeport.

Gaudreau, 22, is a diminutive forward (not unlike his brother), listed at 5-foot-9, 145 pounds. He had a good offensive campaign for BC, leading the team in scoring with 35 points in 40 games.

In a second move, the Isles finally agreed to terms with University of Minnesota d-man Jake Bischoff on an entry-level deal.

Five years ago, the Isles selected Bischoff in the seventh round of the draft (out of USHL Omaha). The 22-year-old then proceeded to build an impressive resume with the Gophers, which includes a solid senior campaign that saw him rack up 32 points in 38 games. He also captured the Big Ten defensive player of the year award.

New York had until this summer to sign Bischoff, otherwise it would’ve lost his draft rights.

Like Gaudreau, Bischoff will report to Bridgeport to begin his pro career. There, the pair will join yesterday’s signing — Northeastern captain John Stevens (the son of Kings associate coach John Stevens), who inked a two-year ELC with the Isles.

 

Devils sign d-man Michael Kapla

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The New Jersey Devils have signed UMass-Lowell defenseman Michael Kapla to a two-year, entry-level contract.

Kapla, 22, had three goals and 27 assists in 41 games this season. He’ll report to the Devils and likely burn the first year of his ELC by making his NHL debut sometime very soon.

The Devils host the Winning Jets tonight. They’re in Brooklyn Friday to play the Islanders.

Kapla spent four years in college. Per the Devils’ press release, he “most recently captained the River Hawks to the 2017 Hockey East Championship. He also received Hockey East All-Tournament Team honors and was named to the Hockey East Second All-Star Team.”

 

Report: Penn State sophomore Pedrie leaves school, signs with Rangers

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For the second straight day, the Rangers have landed an undrafted college free agent.

Vince Pedrie, a sophomore blueliner that just wrapped his sophomore campaign at Penn State, has reportedly agreed to terms with the Rangers on an entry-level deal, per the Collegian.

Citing a post from Pedrie’s Facebook account confirming the move, the Collegian reports the 23-year-old is the youngest Nittany Lion in program history to leave the team for the professional ranks.

It comes after Pedrie emerged as a “dominant offensive force” for the club last season, racking up 30 points in 39 games while helping Penn State qualify for its first NCAA championship appearance.

As mentioned above, this is the second intriguing prospect to join the Blueshirts in as many days. On Monday, University of Minnesota senior Vinni Lettieri agreed to join the team after an impressive four-year career with the Gophers.